On the first page of the preface of his book, Phillip Cary writes:
Some folks may find it odd when I say Christians need the gospel, but this is something I firmly believe. … It’s hearing the gospel of Christ and receiving him by faith, over and over again, that makes the real transformation in our lives. We become new people in Christ by faith alone, not by our good works or efforts or even our attempts to let God work in our lives.
This thought echoes my own, that we need to be constantly re-evangelizing each other, as well as that of Martin Luther, who wrote:
So this doctrine can never be taught, urged, and repeated enough. If this doctrine is lost, then is also the whole knowledge of the truth, life and salvation lost. If this doctrine flourishes, then all good things flourish.
Crediting Luther, Cary then makes what to some would be a rather shocking statement, “…the good news of the gospel is that God has already decided to do something about our lives—whether we let him or not…”
Cary’s point in this book is that the practical things we try to do to become more transformed don’t accomplish what we think they will, and actually damage our spirituality, making us anxious Christians.
Hearing God’s voice in our hearts
The first thing Cary tackles is the notion that we need to hear God’s voice in our heart, and that if we don’t, there’s something wrong with us. He maintains, in fact, the voices in our heart are our own—influenced by God, perhaps, but still, they our simply our own voices—and there’s nothing wrong with that. If we start understanding that our own inner voice is good (although not perfect) and it’s okay to listen to ourselves, we will function more normally, maturely, and truly spiritually.
This is something Ken and I mention in our own book, concerning people’s religious addiction, noting that those who claim to hear God’s voice the most are often the people with the most messed-up lives.
While Cary doesn’t mention this, the whole concept of hearing God’s voice in our heart is not unlike that claimed by Mormons, and sometimes even serial killers. There is simply no objective way to determine the validity of this inner voice—unless we admit it is our own. We have already been given revelation in the person of Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-2) and the scriptures; what more do we want?
For those people who realize that the only voices they hear are their own, this can obviously cause anxiety, and sometimes “playing along” with the group in order to seem “normal.”
Cary is not saying that we are “on our own,” or that the Holy Spirit doesn’t speak to us or through us. What he is saying is that as truth comes into us, as the Holy Spirit works in us and we become transformed, our own inner voices will be more conformed as well. Our inner voice will sound more and more like the voice of God—presuming we are having the good news preached to us and we are paying attention to the revelation we have in the Scriptures.
This makes church essential—we can’t just listen to our inner voice, we have to hear the Scriptures preached and listen to each other, for “faith comes by hearing,” not by looking inward where we can imagine any of our thoughts are those of God. We truly need to be evangelizing each other, over and over again.
Excellent stuff! Luther’s words to Melanchthon sum it up so well…. ‘The whole Gospel is OUTSIDE of us’. I agree that church should be a place that truly “speaks” the Gospel to us (a hospital, as Lewis put it, for those truly in need) but what do you do when during 30 plus years of church going the majority of your experience has been of ‘church’ which ALIENATES from that precious message – where the theme is always ‘you must do this’, not Christ alone. That is the terrible malady of our age, so like in the film, ‘the book of Eli’, we often find ourselves amidst a wilderness where dangerous characters want to use the Word for all manner of legalistic purposes other than to share the bread of heaven. It is the Gospel alone, and the life which derives from this, which truly makes us free, how ever ‘messy’ our spirituality may appear.
Okay, you’ve got your engine started again. Keep revving.